Mountain Chickens, Solar Radiation, Watersheds and More: Environment/Climate Change Roundup, July 10, 2016

Scientists, academics, non-scientists like me and members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network at the workshop on Solar Radiation Management: Researh, Governance, and Uncertainty organized by the Caribbean Academy of Sciences at the University of the West Indies last Thursday. It was a great day of learning and vibrant discussion on a very controversial topic. (Photo: CYEN/Facebook)
Scientists, academics, non-scientists like me and members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network at the workshop on Solar Radiation Management: Researh, Governance, and Uncertainty organized by the Caribbean Academy of Sciences at the University of the West Indies last Thursday. It was a great day of learning and vibrant discussion on a very controversial topic. (Photo: CYEN/Facebook)

I hope you find something of interest here… Feedback is always welcome! Here are my Top Ten articles…

Jamaica and the Caribbean:

There are less than 100 mountain chicken frogs left in the wild on the two Caribbean islands of Montserrat and Dominica. Photograph: Jeff Dawson/Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

There are less than 100 mountain chicken frogs left in the wild on the two Caribbean islands of Montserrat and Dominica. Photograph: Jeff Dawson/Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Caribbean Island’s Last Two Rare Frogs are Reunited: What is a Mountain Chicken? It’s a frog! The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is coordinating a Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme, and recently brought together a male and a female, in hopes that they will breed. They are apparently the last two remaining on Montserrat!  It’s a touching love story (the male was calling for weeks) and hopefully it will have a happy ending. Read more:

A man was arrested and charged after being caught chopping down Blue Mahoe trees - Jamaica's National Tree, by the way - as well as Sweetwood. (Photo: diG Jamaica)

A man was arrested and charged after being caught chopping down Blue Mahoe trees – Jamaica’s National Tree, by the way – as well as Sweetwood. (Photo: diG Jamaica)

Please protect our watersheds! The National Water Commission is urging the public NOT to cut down trees! Especially in our protected watersheds. A man was arrested and charged recently after being caught cutting down dozens of fully grown Blue Mahoe and Sweetwood trees in the Hermitage watershed, near the dam. You are not allowed to be in possession of a chainsaw in these areas. Chopping down trees not only affects our water supply; it also causes soil erosion and landslides. This document is a draft National Watershed Policy (2003). I am trying to find the final one and whether it was tabled in Parliament.


International Coastal Cleanup Day: Registration is now open for International Coastal Cleanup Day Jamaica 2016. Register to become an ICC site coordinator and host your own cleanup on September 17 – find out more information here. The deadline for registering your project is August 12!

New supercomputer will help with climate change research: Fujitsu has signed a contract with the University of the West Indies for a supercomputer through a grant from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Climate Investment Fund. The supercomputer will provide relevant data on water, food security, sea level rise and other issues resulting from climate change.

Parrotfish on sale in a St. Catherine fish market.

Parrotfish on sale in a St. Catherine fish market.

Save the Parrotfish, Save Our Islands: Sandals Resorts International has started a regional public education campaign, Save the Parrotfish, Save Our Islands. The resorts had already stopped purchasing and preparing parrotfish in their restaurants. Yes, I know parrotfish are very tasty – we just have to stop eating them. Eat lion fish instead. Here’s my take:

Professor Ishen Kumba Kahwa (seated right), deputy principal, University of the West Indies (UWI), exchanges documents with Mervyn Eyre (seated left), head, Fujitsu, Caribbean, Central America and Mexico, shortly after signing a contract for the acquisition of a supercomputer. Looking on are (from left) Simone Whilby, deputy client executive, Fujitsu; Ainsley Henry, programme manager, UWI; Dr Georgiana Gordon-Strachan, director, Mona Office for Research and Innovation; and Gerard Allenz, climate change senior specialist, IDB, Washington. (Photo: Gleaner)

Professor Ishenkumba Kahwa (seated right), deputy principal, University of the West Indies (UWI), exchanges documents with Mervyn Eyre (seated left), head, Fujitsu, Caribbean, Central America and Mexico, shortly after signing a contract for the acquisition of a supercomputer. Looking on are (from left) Simone Whilby, deputy client executive, Fujitsu; Ainsley Henry, programme manager, UWI; Dr Georgiana Gordon-Strachan, director, Mona Office for Research and Innovation; and Gerard Allenz, climate change senior specialist, IDB, Washington. (Photo: Gleaner)


That bad stuff called Styrofoam:  The city of San Francisco recently banned the use of Styrofoam, something we are struggling with. This short article  from the Pacific island of Guam explains why it is so bad; it literally takes centuries to biodegrade and often ends up in the stomachs of marine life.

High levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals were detected during the Riverton City fire in March 2015. However, air pollution is a persistent problem in Kingston and across the island. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

High levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals were detected during the Riverton City fire in March 2015. Quite apart from such extreme events, air pollution is a persistent problem in Kingston and across the island. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

6.5 million deaths per year due to air pollution: The recently published World Energy Outlook Special Report 2016 on Energy and Air Pollution (you can download it here) notes that air pollution is a global health crisis. Around 6.5 million premature deaths each year can be attributed to air pollution, with energy production and use by far the biggest man-made source of air pollution. The report suggests ways to resolve this problem while still achieving sustainable development goals.

Smoke curls up from the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano part of the volcanic system of the Great Rift Valley in northern Tanzania. Intense volcanic heat in the area has trapped helium gas in large amounts in shallow fields. (Joseph Eid / AFP/Getty Images)

Smoke curls up from the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano part of the volcanic system of the Great Rift Valley in northern Tanzania. Intense volcanic heat in the area has trapped helium gas in large amounts in shallow fields. (Joseph Eid / AFP/Getty Images)

Scientists say a rare, recently discovered Tanzanian helium field is a global “game changer”: Scientists from the UK’s Durham and Oxford Universities have discovered a major field of the rare element called helium in Tanzania’s Rift Valley. Helium (first discovered in 1868) is used in MRI scanners, space exploration and nuclear energy (and hot air balloons). It is rare on Earth but it’s the second most abundant element in the known Universe. Read more:

The wetlands area of La Cienaga Conchal in Colombia.

The wetlands area of La Cienaga Conchal in Colombia.

Why Waterbirds Count: Did you know about the International Waterbirds Census? It is now in its 50th year! Colombia is a country of tremendous bird diversity, with over three times the number of bird species found in the whole of Europe (I just learned this – amazing). So it’s an important place to count waterbirds, especially the migratory species. Here’s a beautiful celebration of the work of the Colombian environmental NGO La Asociación Calidris on the page of Wetlands International:

Climate scientists face legal challenges: This article points to yet another challenge to scientists researching climate change, especially in the United States: legal harassment and lawsuits from climate change deniers, fossil fuel companies and the like, that cost them vast amounts of money and time. The Energy & Environment Legal Institute is one of the main offenders. Read more:

Here’s a final word from my hero, environmental advocate and Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who never fails to speak out and who also puts his money where his mouth is:


Ways to Support the Campaign to Protect Portland Bight Protected Area/Goat Islands

When I last posted an update about support for the campaign to save the Portland Bight Protected Area, including Goat Islands, I noted that things remain “hanging in the balance.” Well, they still are. The Jamaican Government remains alarmingly silent on the matter. The Finance Minister recently visited China along with the head of the Port Authority of Jamaica, among others; what happened during that visit? Was anything signed?

Well, I have updated the list that I posted on October 22 of all the organizations (and some influential individuals) that have come out in support of the campaign. They are both at home and abroad, as you can see: in Jamaica, the UK, USA, Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium…even Vietnam. Every day, more supporters are joining the campaign. As I noted before, scientists are part of a global network that knows no borders. They continuously support each other, collaborating on field expeditions and programs (such as the Caribbean Birding Trail which includes this protected area). Technology and the Internet has made this all possible – and easy.

If I have made any errors in this list – or have omitted anyone that I should have included – please let me know.

The Save Goat Islands campaign is hugely grateful to all these organizations. Please continue supporting us in every way you can!

  • Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bournemouth, Dorset, UK AND Berkeley, California
  • A Peaceful Planet Facebook page
  • ARKive, Bristol, UK and Washington, DC, USA
  • Avian Research and Conservation Institute, Gainesville, Florida
  • Betty White (“Golden Girls”), Actress and Activist
  • Birds Caribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation & Study of Caribbean Birds)
  • Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
  • Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Fort Worth, Texas, USA
  • Caribbean Birding Trail
  • Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), Jamaica
  • Caribbean Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Puerto Rico
  • Caribbean Wildlife Alliance, Fort Worth, Texas, USA
  • Centre for Biological Diversity, Tucson, Arizona, USA
  • Chester Zoo UK
  • Conservation International, Arlington, Virginia, USA
  • Countrystyle Community Tourism Network, Jamaica
  • David Suzuki Foundation, Vancouver, Canada
  • Dream Team Divers, Jamaica
  • Earthjustice, San Francisco, California, USA
  • Eco-Index, ℅ Rainforest Alliance, New York, USA
  • Environmental Foundation of Jamaica
  • Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (eLaw), Eugene, Oregon, USA
  • Fans of Animal Rights Facebook page
  • Feel Like a Biologist
  • 51% Coalition: Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment through Equity, Jamaica
  • Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, Texas, USA
  • GoNOMAD Travel, South Deerfield, Massachusetts, USA
  • Greenpeace NZ, New Zealand
  • Herp Alliance, Saint Charles, Illinois, USA
  • Herpeto, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
  • Herpetology, Free University of Brussels (VUB), Belgium
  • HuffPost Green
  • I.F.R.O.G.S (Indigenous Forest Research Organization for Global Sustainability), Stuart, Florida, USA (with reps in other countries)
  • Iguana Specialist Group (ISG) – IUCN Red List
  • International Iguana Foundation (IIF), Fort Worth, Texas, USA
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN: International Union for the Conservation of Nature), Cambridge, UK
  • Jamaica Civil Society Coalition
  • Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust
  • Jamaica Environment Trust
  • Jamaicans for Justice
  • Misty Mountain Herbs, Jamaica
  • Mockingbird Hill Hotel, Jamaica
  • National Coalition Jamaica
  • NoMaddz Bongo Music, Jamaica
  • North American Reptile Breeders Conference, California, Illinois, Texas, USA
  • Novataxa: Species New to Science, Hat Yai, Thailand
  • One World Wildlife, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK
  • Plant Conservation Unit, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Project Noah (supported by National Geographic)
  • Queensland Ecotourism Authority, Australia
  • Ramsar Convention (the Portland Bight Protected Area is a Ramsar Wetland of Importance)
  • Reptile Hunter
  • Reptile Lovers ACE (Awareness, Conservation & Education)
  • Rock Iguanas Facebook page
  • San Diego Herpetological Society, San Diego, California, USA
  • San Diego Zoo Global, San Diego, California, USA
  • Seven Oaks Sanctuary for Wildlife, Jamaica
  • Shawn Heflick, Explorer, Conservation Biologist & Wildlife Expert, Palm Bay, Florida, USA
  • Southern California Herpetological Association & Rescue, Fuller, California, USA
  • The Biodiversity Group, Tucson, Arizona, USA
  • The Biologist Apprentice, Mexico
  • The Jamaica Caves Organisation
  • The Nature Conservancy (worldwide), Arlington, Virginia, USA
  • The Reptile Report, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • The Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, New York, USA
  • Tropical Herping, Quito, Ecuador
  • United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK), Grandy, North Carolina, USA
  • Urban Jungles Radio (Danny Mendez), New York, USA
  • Vietnam Herpetology
  • Wildlife Nature: Facebook
  • Windsor Research Centre, Jamaica
  • World Wildlife Fund

Thousands of people from Jamaica and around the world have signed the petition on, here:  If you have not signed it yet, please consider doing so and share with anyone who may be interested. It includes many heartfelt comments from supporters, as well as additional articles and information.

Other ways in which you can support the campaign:  

  • Join the Facebook page: No! To Port on Goat Island Jamaica. It is updated daily with news, relevant articles and updates, including links from many of our supporting organizations – and archived information that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. Please also join the Facebook pages of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), the NGO that manages this Protected Area; and of course that of the Jamaica Environment Trust, which spearheads the campaign in Jamaica.
  • Read the new Briefing Paper on the Goat Islands/Portland Bight just posted by the Jamaica Environment Trust on its new website:, where you can find updates and further information. The link is here:
  • Follow @SaveGoatIslands and @jamentrust on Twitter.
  • Become a member of the Jamaica Environment Trust! Volunteer, or make a donation… Visit the JET website at for more details.
  • Buy a Save Goat Islands T-shirt – available via the online form in Jamaica (J$1000) or in the U.S. for $15 at this link: See the Save Goat Islands website for further details.
  • Share the short animated video “Don’t mess with Goat Islands,” created by Jamaicans. Here it is: (It’s very catchy, I warn you!) Lyrics: Inilek Wilmot; Vocals: Quecee; Music: Jeremy Ashbourne. Animation: NivekPro Animations. Well done!
  • Write to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller; President/CEO of the Port Authority of Jamaica Professor Gordon Shirley; Dr. Omar Davies, Minister of Transport and Works; and Robert Pickersgill, Minister of Land Water Environment and Climate Change.
  • Write letters to the newspapers: the Jamaica Gleaner ( and the Jamaica Observer ( If you are overseas, please spread the word online via the media, etc…
  • In case you missed it, please read this statement from Jamaica Environment Trust And here is the statement from the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, which includes JET and many other non-governmental and community-based organizations:

Please support the campaign to preserve and protect the Portland Bight Protected Area, and Goat Islands! It is Jamaicans’ birthright…

Thank you!

Photo: C-CAM
Photo: C-CAM

Post-Sandy Cheer, Part One: Gastronomic

I know that we city-dwellers (or most of us) have been spoilt. After Hurricane Sandy whisked across the island, tearing up trees and tearing down light poles, we have been the lucky ones (despite our loud complaints that we didn’t get power back the following day…) Now it is a week away, and after our determined attempts to sweep up the yard it now looks reasonably tidy. Garbage and forlorn piles of foliage now fringe Kingston’s roadsides. We are not expecting a garbage truck any time soon. There are only twenty for the entire city, says the government agency. I suppose they weren’t expecting a hurricane? No warnings?

So, my husband whipped up a little something over the weekend, which went down very well. My dear brother and his Australian wife recently gave us a marvelous cookbook, “Bill’s Sydney Food: The Original and Classic Recipe Collection.” I refer you to page 25: Sweet Corn Fritters with Roast Tomato and Bacon. Well, we skipped the bacon, but… for a first attempt, it was pretty darn good. The cookbook also does lunch and dinner recipes too, so we plan to delve further into its yummy depths..

Bill's Sydney Food

The cookbook.

Why Bill’s, you may ask? When we were staying in the great city of Sydney three years ago, in the cozy neighborhood of Darlinghurst, the bohemian-chic little hotel we were staying at referred us there for breakfast. We had just arrived, at six in the morning, after a twelve-hour flight from San Francisco. We were feeling light-headed and slightly crazed after the longest flight we had ever taken, on the largest plane we had ever seen. Bill’s breakfast brought us back down to earth, deliciously. We stuck with Bill’s the day after, and the day after that. The freshness and simplicity of the food, and the cool but light-filled restaurant and pleasant service easily seduced us. We were good for our days of sight-seeing.

More on post-Sandy pleasures in my next post!

Related articles:  (Bill’s marvelous website) (Bill’s Sydney Food)

Bill's breakfast

Fruits…and the fresh, inhouse-baked fruit muffins are to die for!

Bill's breakfast

A leisurely breakfast at Bill’s with brother, sister-in-law and friend… It has to be leisurely, so you can savor it!

Bill's breakfast

The awesome sight of a Bill’s breakfast.

Sweet Corn Fritters

Sweet Corn Fritters made with all-Jamaican ingredients and accompanied by soursop juice and delicious coffee from Cafe Blue, as experienced in Kingston, Jamaica…


One Laptop per Child Reaches Jamaica

By coincidence, my fellow-blogger Annie Paul just posted this article about One Laptop Per Child, which I mentioned in my blog just yesterday. I am so happy to hear that it has just arrived in Jamaica. And happy that it is being employed in August Town – a community with a tempestuous history and an uneasy present, which the University of the West Indies has “adopted” as a University Township. And it is good to see that this is coming from that vibrant and beautiful city by the sea, San Francisco… Read and enjoy and thanks for letting us know, Annie!

Active Voice



Recently I had a conversation with Sameer Verma of San Francisco State University about an innovative venture he’s involved with — the One Laptop per Child project. Verma, an open source software (OSS) activist, was invited by Professor Evan Duggan, Executive Director of the Mona School of Business and new Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, whom he went to school with, to spearhead the OLPC project in Jamaica. According to the OLPC Jamaica website:

OLPC Jamaica is a general interest group for the One Laptop per Child initiatives in Jamaica. The group started at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, Jamaica on 5th September, 2008. Compelled by the belief that the OLPC has considerable potential for enhancing the efficient delivery, and improved Pedagogy in early childhood education in Jamaica, OLPC Jamaica intends to foster interest, generate ideas…

View original post 891 more words

African Postman: Drumming Across Continents

The drum is, of course, the cornerstone of African music, the throbbing heart of it. But the voice of the drum is a universal voice – a call to come together and celebrate, whether it is in Nigeria or Pakistan or Brazil…or Jamaica. As the article below notes, it’s a “mass activity.”  

A couple of years ago, we enjoyed a wonderful day of free opera in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, lazing on the grass in warm sunlight, people watching and shouting “Bravo!” from time to time. As the program drew to a close, I heard another sound – something that seemed to grow from a group of trees in a hollow space some way below the big space where thousands had gathered for the opera. It was insistent, and continuous, and it wanted to be heard. At the end of the concert, we followed that sound, and came across a row of men, of all ages and cultures and colors, sitting on several benches and drumming their hearts out. An appreciative group of men, women and children hovered nearby, most of them moving their feet and shoulders and all of them smiling. We stopped, and listened. The drummers were so absorbed that they did not seem to notice anyone around them, except each other. Drumming had gotten a hold of them. When we left, half an hour later, they were still playing, in their own world, without stopping. (I  am pausing here and searching my iPhotos for my photographic record of these drummers, but can I find them? No! Most disappointing. I will look for them and post them at a later date, as I know they are there somewhere, in the archives…)

Meanwhile, I came across this wonderful article from the equally wonderful New Yorker magazine, which sums up the universality of drumming, and the cross-cultural sharing that African drumming and dancing has brought to the world. It is written by Elif Batuman, a New York-born writer of Turkish origin, who currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey. The city of Istanbul is itself such a crossroads of history, cultures, tribes and traditions, and a city that I would love to visit. Below is the link to this article.

Elif Batuman

Elif Batuman

The first time I held an African drum in my hands was at Koç University, in a forest in the northern suburbs of Istanbul. Istanbul is not known, justly, for its highly developed sub-Saharan music scene. But Koç is a remarkable institution, with an ice rink, a celebrity Pilates coach, and a writer-in-residence, so I was only slightly surprised to learn there was also an African dance class with live drummers. One moonlit evening, I met with a colleague, a scholar of migrant narratives, in a faculty parking lot, where we transferred several goatskin drums from someone’s living room to the trunk of someone else’s car, and drove to the west campus annex, in a rolling dystopian valley full of housing developments.

In a studio just off of a multistory parking garage, we met Inci Turan, Istanbul’s first African dance instructor. (In addition to the class at Koç, she teaches twice a week at a recording studio near the city center, where the photographs in this piece were taken.) African dance and drumming are inextricably linked both to each other and to various agricultural and social events, from marriage to wrestling. That night, Inci demonstrated a harvest dance. I had never before seen such flinging of the head and shoulders, abjectly forward and exultantly back. Her outstretched arms were giving, giving, then taking, taking, generous and voracious by turns. Then there were moments of such thoughtfulness, such listening. “Listen to the ground with your right ear,” Inci says during one of the warmup stretches, and she really looks like she’s listening.

Inci currently works with a group of five drummers. Three of them played at my first class. Badji is at least a head taller than the others, with a gentle demeanor and long dreadlocks. Ibrahim is the one who always looks watchful, even angry. For weeks he yelled at me, because I was so bad at African dancing. Stamping his feet, he would dance in place, shouting: “C’est facile! Facile!” Kandioura, who wears sunglasses indoors, comes from a famous family of Guinean balafon players. He loves to play solos. They are hard to dance to. “No solo, Kandioura,” Inci sometimes tells him. “Solo, solo,” he repeats.

African drumming is polyrhythmic: conflicting rhythms are played simultaneously. Skilled dancers can move two, three, or even four parts of their bodies to different rhythms at once. A master drummer is said to be able to “make the djembe talk.” Such speech acts may be figurative or literal. The Yoruba “talking drums” can convey verbal messages over long distances. Ewe drummers are known to hold insult contests, shooting insults back and forth using specially tuned drums.

A good djembe is carved in one piece from a hollowed tree. The body is shaped like a goblet, the membrane made from the skin of a goat or other animal, preferably female. (Male goatskins have a less even texture, and smell more goatlike.) Each is individually tuned, with its own voice and personality, and is said to contain three spirits: the spirit of the tree, the spirit of the goat, and the spirit of the drum-maker. The musicians are very affectionate toward their drums. They speak the word “djembe” with great tenderness.

Djembe carvers

Carving djembe drums in Guinea.

One of my colleagues, a philosophy professor, bought a djembe. It wasn’t cheap, but in the worst case she can use it as an end table. The drummers are giving her lessons. One evening I sat with them under a tree. Lessons often take place outdoors, in remote areas, because of the noise. A cook came out from behind a nearby grilled-intestines counter, his face transfigured by admiration. He told me that he had worked as a sailor for many years, that he had seen wonderful things in Panama, and was in possession of some incredible marijuana that had been excreted by a goat in Kenya. I thought about how different my life would be if I spent more time sitting under trees learning about the djembe.

Inci Turan was born in Düsseldorf. Her father started out as a factory guestworker, studied to become a mechanical engineer, and opened one of the first Turkish schools in Germany. He later left this job, due, Inci believes, to interference by powerful political interests. When Inci tells you a story, it often involves the demonic forces of jealousy and ill will. Turkish has many figures of speech about the evil eye. When I’m with her, I find myself believing them. I want to fix amulets to her body. It’s hard to imagine any unseen dark powers not taking an interest in anyone so special.

After her family returned to Turkey, Inci graduated with honors from the math department of an Istanbul high school. She briefly played professional volleyball, then moved to America, where she studied economics at SUNY Stonybrook and worked as a consultant in New York. She played volleyball every weekend in Central Park, where she was lured one day along an unfamiliar path by the pulse of mysterious drums, as if from some secret nightclub, hidden in broad daylight. She came upon a big circle of African drummers and dancers. For hours she sat and listened to them, beaming, transfigured. She began to pursue the study of African dance all over the city, from the National Black Theatre of Harlem and the Hundred and Thirty-seventh Street Y.M.C.A. to the Djoniba Dance and Drum Centre and a series of Crunch gyms.

Inci was living in Harlem at that time with her boyfriend, Sean, a Haitian-American architectural engineer whom she had met at the Stamford bus station when he was eighteen and she was twenty-eight. (He initially told her he was twenty-four.) At Inci’s urging, Sean tried his hand at African drumming. He ended up just as obsessed as she was, and made two trips to Senegal to study with master drummers. The couple split up in 2005, when Inci returned to Turkey. A year later Sean moved to Istanbul to join her, and they got married. They recently separated, but Sean is still the head drummer in Inci’s group.

Inci Turan of Dans Afrika

German-born Inci Turan, founder of Istanbul’s Dans Afrika, feels the drums.

When Inci first got back to Istanbul, she missed African dance terribly. There weren’t any classes, so she decided to start one herself. She and Sean recruited two more African drummers, from Istanbul’s migrant and refugee community. They ended up helping the drummers with food and rent, so for a long time the classes brought in no profit. One day the Istanbul office of Peppers & Rogers, where Inci had applied for a consulting job, invited her to run an African dance motivation retreat for its employees. The workshop was a hit. Inci and Sean went on to lead motivation and ice-breaking workshops for companies including Novartis, Sanovel, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, H & M, 3M, and Volvo.

At first, I found a certain irony in the image of West African migrants convening at Turkish resort hotels in order to rev up Big Pharma for the next productive quarter. I suppose it’s because consideration of African interests isn’t what global corporations are best known for. But Inci doesn’t see things that way. Because she and Sean started their own careers in the corporate world, and because they made a new, drum-centered life for themselves, as adults and against considerable odds, she feels that they are uniquely qualified to transmit and embody the corporate credo that any target, sales or otherwise, is attainable through hard work and what she calls a “can-do attitude.” African dance, she adds, is a mass activity—a corporate activity. It’s impossible, she says, not to feel inspired by the spectacle of three hundred employees of a catering conglomerate dancing to African rhythms played by a hundred and fifty of their coworkers on an assortment of dunduns, djembes, and Turkish darbuka drums.

The current drummers have been in Istanbul nearly a year now. Kandioura, Ibrahim, and their friend Salif came last year for a Senegalese Day festivity, and never went back. They discovered Badji quite by chance, selling knockoff watches on the street. For months after their arrival, the drummers lived in Sean’s apartment. Inci still pays for their shoes and dental bills, and books their shows. The group, which calls itself Dans Afrika, performs every week or two, at diverse venues. I once heard them play a 3:30 A.M. slot at an electronic club called Clinic to a large, mostly Senegalese audience. Inci just booked them for the Efes Pilsen One Love Festival, alongside such groups as the Kaiser Chiefs and Yuck. Business still isn’t as good as she would like. Inci has often made the rounds of sports clubs, offering to teach African dance for free, and been told that there isn’t any customer demand. “Of course there’s no customer demand,” she says. “How can they demand it if they don’t know what it is?”

When I was growing up, many of my relatives had never seen a black person before. Today, hundreds, maybe thousands of Africans live in Istanbul’s old city alone. It’s hard to imagine their lives in their human totality. Walking around with the drummers, I’m often surprised by the jovial attitude people seem to take towards them—as if to convey appreciation of some terrific joke the Africans have played on us all, just by existing. One afternoon, when Badji got into the front seat of a taxi, dreadlocks spilling out from his bulging knit cap, the driver’s face immediately lit up. “What’s this, man?” he demanded with mock sternness. “What’s all this?” Badji shrugged and smiled, as if to say: “It’s my earthly form, bro.” Badji once spent two years on Jeju Island in South Korea, playing the djembe at the African Museum. He says there’s a lot of respect for African culture on Jeju Island. Ibrahim often tells me I should come to Senegal, to see how the people live. “You will cry,” he says, repeatedly. “You will cry!” he shouts, indicating with a calloused finger the course of a tear down his face. Ibrahim doesn’t know about the classical rhetoric of persuasion. He has taught me a few words in Wolof. “Yes” sounds like wow.” Talking on the phone, Wolof speakers sound perpetually amazed.

Dans Afrika

Dans Afrika

Although I have developed great fondness for African dancing, one of my favorite moments comes just after the end of class. The drummers pack up their djembes in quilted cases. Kandioura puts on his sunglasses. Sean wanders around with no shirt, carrying heavy objects. Inci comes out of the dressing room looking radiant in a sundress. One by one, everyone heads downstairs, each in his or her own particular fashion. The corporate glow lingers overhead, like a giant sun, then sinks below the horizon. Inci has phone calls to make, a can-do attitude to keep up. The drummers have to get to Beyazit, to do whatever they do there. The studio is on a steep cobbled street, running from the Bosphorus to the city center. We start walking up the hill together, but by the time we get to the top, everyone is headed their separate ways.

Cool Art

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein looking super-cool

We escaped San Francisco‘s heat wave (lasted three days, and everyone complained)…and escaped one day into the cool, dark grey marble atrium of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  We relieved ourselves of shopping bags, rested awhile, and then visited…

“75 Years of Looking Forward: The Anniversary Show” – described as “works from SFMOMA‘s collection that tell the story of the artists, collectors, cultural visionaries, and community leaders who founded and built the museum.”

Mr. Petchary stood beside a vast Mark Rothko (Number 14, 1960) – two blurred expanses of a kind of crimson and a kind of deep blue.  He looked solemn (don’t worry, photos will eventually follow).  This is from Mr. Rothko’s “late period” (he refused to be categorized as an abstract painter by the way).   Mr. Rothko was born into a Russian Jewish family, and emigrated to the United States.  New York proved fertile ground, as it so often does.

Jeff Koons‘ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” was a disturbingly beautiful confection of gleaming white and gold.  MJ leans back on one hand, cradling his pet chimpanzee on his lap.  Both have luscious, gilded curly hair, large dark eyes and red lips.  They sit among scattered gilt flowers.  The effect is that of a horse or other creature on a carousel.  Strange indeed.

Other works that caught the Petchary’s eye…

Several by the “Bay Area Abstract Expressionists” – bright, and shouting.

“Tracking Down Guiltless Doves” by Arshile Gorky (1939).  The Petchary has discovered a new artist she really loves…Rothko was born in Russia, Gorky in Armenia.  A number of his paintings were destroyed in a plane crash… This small painting has a white background, with flighty shapes like the doves, and a central eye trying to keep them in order.  Delightful and I must investigate him some more…

“Les Valeurs Personelles” by Rene Magritte.  What you would expect from the famous surrealist.  A room with blue sky and clouds for walls, a large hair comb tilted over a bed, a pencil, a wardrobe with reflecting glass.  The emotional chill of Magritte’s paintings fascinates the Petchary.  The coldness of a small European country.  A lonely feeling.

“Bathers” by David Park.  A couple of others by this artist the Petchary really liked.  He was a member of the Bay Area Figurative School apparently.  The painting was of three young, golden-brown men who had all just emerged from the water it seemed, one nude.  It had a great feeling of life.  Mr. Park believed that a work of art should be “more wonderful” than the artist.  The Petchary thinks so, too.

“Woman in Profile” by Richard Diebenkorn.  There was a palm tree in this painting, which the artist obligingly painted out when it was apparently not wanted.  The still, somewhat expectant pose of the woman arrests the senses.  Diebenkorn was a fellow-member of the above-mentioned Bay Area School.  Park moved from Boston to San Francisco; Diebenkorn moved from Oregon.  Can’t blame them.

“Incision” by Jay DeFeo (1958).  A terrible eruption of “oil and string,” like a dirty, frozen waterfall.  Mr. Petchary described this one as “absolute rubbish.”  Ms. DeFeo was one of the “Beat Generation” and a Berkeley habitue (although again, born on the East coast).  One of her most well-known works weighed 2,300 pounds.  Whew.

“Self Portrait” by Andy Warhol.  Well, we all know Andy, and no surprises here.  Two fingers raised artfully to his lips.  Andy once said, “I think everyone should like everyone.”  (Did he?)

“Collection” by Robert Rauschenberg (1954).  There was a lot of Rauschenberg (perhaps rather too much), but this was an interesting one: thickly pasted layers of paint, newspaper and comic strips.  RR, who died two years ago, was sometimes called a “neo Dadaist” along with Jasper Johns, with whom he reportedly had an affair while still married – but soon divorced.  A little gossip there.  He said he liked “surprise” in art, and he certainly sprang a few.

“Rouen Cathedral Set” by Roy Lichtenstein.  Taken from Monet’s wonderful painting, this gives it a completely new dimension – light, ethereal, delicious colors.  It’s a three-panel set.  Loved it!

Possibly the Petchary’s absolute favorite was “Two Ways to Organize” by Leslie Shows.  Above, a cataclysm of fiery red, shooting sparks, dark clouds like doom-laden fireworks.  Below, striated rocks slip downwards into an abyss – how deep?  Storms and earthquakes…It is made with acrylic, mud, charcoal, rust and collage.  Amazing!  She grew up in Alaska, and it shows…She is the only artist in the above listed faves that is still alive (born in 1977, lives and works in San Francisco)…and the only woman artist too!  Check out her fantastic website at

Last but not at all the least are the two works specially commissioned for SFMOMA’s atrium, by African American artist Kerry James Marshall, called “Visible Means of Support.”  One side depicts Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello; the other George Washington’s residence, Mount Vernon.  The murals show these historical landmarks (the Petchary has visited both) – and note that the slaves owned by the Founding Fathers always seem to be “out of the picture.”  As you look at the paintings, you start to see them in the trees, in a pond, in “join the dots” portrayals.  Marshall was born in Alabama in 1955 but grew up in Los Angeles.  He taught art at the University of Illinois in Chicago for many years – this mural opened just a few weeks after the inauguration of the United States’ first multi-racial president.  It makes one really think…

If you go to San Francisco, please don’t pass by the SFMOMA’s comparatively low-key entrance without venturing inside.  The more time you spend there, the more enriched you will become.

Poor Jamaica

Scientific studies on climate helped establish...

Image via Wikipedia

The Petchary is desperately sad and anxious about Jamaica. As she looks at the weather map, she sees a huge, sinister, deep orange cloud over the island. It is not moving, it seems to turn on itself. I fear for Jamaica. You are all in my thoughts. It is strange to be away and to read this news and see photos and videos of rivers and places I barely recognize – distorted, swollen, broken. Global warming is upon us. Much love to you from sunny, cool San Francisco. See you soon, I hope (even the Petchary’s office is closed tomorrow…) LOVE.